Changes

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I’m looking at making some changes around here.

Websites

Among the changes I am working on is a change to my websites.  Chiefly, atfmb.com and FunctionalNerds.com.

Although I like the design and layout of atfmb.com for the most part, and it really is much better than what I’ve done in the past, I feel like it’s become far too cluttered.  There are a lot of different ways to navigate around and I don’t know that people really take advantage of them because they are everywhere.  It needs to be simpler, more consistent.  Plus, I find that a lot of people will come in on a link to something, but they don’t branch out into other stuff and I want to give them the opportunity to explore more.  There really are some cool things round here if you look around a bit.

As for FunctionalNerds.com – John Anealio and I have never particularly known what to do with that site beyond having it for the podcast.  I started doing the daily nerd news round ups to try and drive traffic to the site, and then later handed that over to the most capable Scott Suehle, which is great – but we think there needs to be more there.  We’ve approached some people about writing some original content for the site so it’s going to need a more dynamic design that can showcase those folks and reward them for their efforts.

With all of that in mind, I’ve built myself a sort of development playground, a place where I can mess around with different themes and designs for the sites, get them looking the way I want before publishing them live to the web.  More on that as things progress.

Writing

If you pinned me down, I would tell you that I am a novelist.  Brevity is not my best friend.

Since I started considering this post, I’ve been trying to pull my thoughts together coherently and what I’ve come up with is this – everything has its pros and cons, including calling yourself a novelist.

Being a novelist is like playing the lottery with the same six numbers all year long or, as they used to say, putting all your eggs in one basket. You’ve done it, you’ve written this epic (in your own mind) piece of long fiction and now it’s time to bring it to the masses.  This may involve querying publishers/editors, agents, etc. and so on.  That can take a long time, as long if not longer than it took you to write your novel in the first place and there’s no guarantee that anyone will ever bite – so what do you do in the meantime?  Write another novel?  Maybe a sequel?  Rewrite the first novel?  Resubmit?

In my case, I looked at writing as a whole and I saw that there were all these potential markets and opportunities out there that I was completely ignoring by calling myself a novelist and writing long fiction alone.  Worse, it might even be a little easier to break through in these markets in the short term but if I’m not writing short fiction…

Consider this – you write an epic fantasy novel that comes in at 100,000 words, which you then try to sell.  Or, you write 15 short stories at around 6,500 words each, give or take.  That’s 15 possibilities to be published, 15 opportunities to get your work in front of people who might actually buy it and publish it.

I am really taking this to heart.  Don’t get me wrong, I am still writing novels – I don’t think I could stop doing that, but I do want to explore what short fiction has to offer.  I’ve done a little of this in the past with my Flash Fiction Fridays but moving forward, I am going to take this to the next level and really try to hone my skills and produce short fiction – and I mean SHORT!  A recent attempt ballooned out to 24000 words (Cahill’s Homecoming, a cowboys in space story set in a far off future) – I want to rein in my long fiction mind and shoot for 3,000 – 6,500 words max and see what I can manage.

It’s not easy, I’ve already begun and found myself at nearly 3,000 words while feeling the story had only just begun.  I need to break myself of the habits that lend well to long fiction but bloat short fiction.  Actually, I need to turn those skills into tools that I can use when I need them and put away when I don’t.

To that end, I’m going to try and write a new piece of short fiction every week and see what happens.  I am also going to push to read as much short fiction as possible so I can really become familiar with how the stories are crafted, what works, what doesn’t, what I like and what I don’t so I can then apply my voice correctly.

Habits

Which brings me to the next big change around here.  Me.

We learn to be who we are slowly over time.  It doesn’t happen immediately.  A lot of things influence us including family, friends, work, school – you name it.

I’ve been thinking for a while now that I need to make some changes personally.  The problem with any sort of change is the habits we fall into.  Example: When I’m stressed, when I think that I can’t possibly get everything done because there just isn’t enough time or I don’t have enough energy – I reach for a pop. Usually Mountain Dew.  If I’m home, I might make a pitcher of sweet tea and start guzzling it.

These are habits I’ve developed over time and they are not easily changed.  There are plenty more where that one came from.

I’ve heard about Tobias Buckell for a while now and from a lot of different people, folks I respect and whose opinions matter to me.  He has a story – you can read it here. At World Fantasy, I had the opportunity to sit down with him and have a very candid conversation.

He’s a fairly impressive guy and incredibly engaging.

We talked about weight loss.

I’m a big guy, always have been.  I like to steal Ron White’s joke and say that I’m between six three and six six depending on which convenience store I’m leaving.  I started growing vertically in high school and didn’t stop til it was over.  My eating habits have never been particularly healthy.  Like Wallace and Grommet, I have a penchant for cheese (pizza, mac n cheese, chicken alfredo, lasagna).  I also have always drank a lot of pop or sweet tea.  This has resulted in a lot of weight gain.

I’ve had a lot of people tell me that I seem very comfortable with who I am.  I suppose that’s true for the most part, but I have never been happy with my weight.  I never learned exercise really – some of my P.E. teachers in high school tried to teach us these things but I never paid much attention because it was boring.  I am more at home in front of a keyboard than I have ever been in a gym.  Unfortunately, being in front of a keyboard is a sedentary life which isn’t good for any of us in the long run.

Talking with Tobias, he was basically the opposite of me – a guy who worked out, lifted weights, was into all of that.  Now, he can’t do that anymore (again, go read his story on his blog – it’s worth your time) but wants to be in shape, needs to, really.  I can respect that.  He gained a lot of weight due to inactivity, but is now back on the road and losing weight again thanks to changing how he approaches eating and exercise.  He showed me this app he has on his iPhone, LoseIt!

I downloaded it as soon as I got back from World Fantasy.

Essentially, the concept is to be aware of what you are eating or drinking and the calories of each item. You set a goal weight, when you would like to reach that goal and then start tracking what you eat and drink.

Where this works, where it clicked for me, was when Tobias told me that he was losing weight but eating a donut every day.  That blew my mind! (of course, now comes the story of the guy who lost weight eating twinkies!)  Of course, we don’t want to eat junk food all the time, but the point is that if you are aware of what you are eating calorie wise, it’s okay to have what you like, what you enjoy.

How this really helps me is that there is no cold turkey.  I don’t have to stop drinking Mountain Dew or sweet tea – I just have to be aware of how much and how often.  I started a couple weeks ago, changing my habits slowly.  My habit is to reach for a Mountain Dew?  That’s okay – I can still do that, but I can’t order the large drink.  I get the regular drink, I don’t get a refill and I don’t take it back to the office with me when I leave.  I like fast food?  That’s okay too – just shift what I order rather than deny myself.

Example.  I love the teriyaki chicken rice bows at Tokyo Joe’s.  Guess what?  They’re about 400 calories but oh so tasty – great lunch.  Feeling hungrier than that?  A Subway turkey sandwich is only 600 calories and piled with stuff.

Now when I head out to lunch, I think about it first – how hungry am I?  What’s the plan for dinner?  One of my favorites is Arby’s – they have the only fries I actually like.  My usual is a french dip with a large curly fries and pop.  I was craving that one day last week so I plugged it into LoseIt to see what that would cost me – IT WAS ABOUT TWO THIRDS MY DAILY ALLOTMENT OF CALORIES!  I was blown away.  I shifted my plans and hit Subway instead.  Bigger sandwich and way better in the long run because I was able to snack a little that night after dinner.

So, I am changing my habits gradually, but it is working.  I’m drinking more water, less other stuff.  I’m aware of what I eat before I eat it, I log everything.  When I first started, I weighed in at 285 – then I hurt my back and went to the doctor’s office where they weighed me at 295, which bothered me.  When I was feeling better, I bought a new scale and tried again – it came up 285 so I chalked the doctor’s scale up to all my clothes and the fact I was wearing my boots.

I didn’t weigh myself again for a bit.  I didn’t want to do that thing where I am constantly looking at the scale – that could be bad.  I just let it go.  Twoish weeks later, I weighed in at 278 and my eyes about bugged out of my skull!  7 pounds down!

I’m sold.  I’m sticking with it. I am even looking at an exercise bike to add to my office in the basement.

When next I hit a con, I will be slimmer than I am right now by far.  Maybe I’ll even enjoy flying this time!

~P

7 comments for “Changes

  1. November 23, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    The short story vs. novel thing, and the weight loss thing, both strike a chord with me.

    Until about three years ago, I would have told you I write short stories. There’s some on the blog. Then a half-baked thought experiment I dubbed FAR Future (which is really about the near future, it’s a pun on my pen name) took off and turned into one of those near-100K word epics. Epic, as in “long story”; good is in the eye of the reader, IMO. With nothing like a comfortable break in between, a piece of flash fiction called White Pickups then grabbed me by the brain stem and insisted on more air time. The one thing both of those projects have in common is that I figured they’d end up as short (50-60K words) novels, or even long novellas… the latter now looks to run close to 80K words and I have a significant chunk of the sequel down. Given the youth of several of the protags, I could probably make it a YA series if I dump the heavy sex scenes and tone down the language… [BTW, what happened to Evermist? Ran out of steam? I hate when that happens. I serialized White Pickups mostly to give myself incentive to keep at it.]

    I’ve managed to lose a bunch of weight, then gain almost all of it back. My primary issue these days is exercise — I’m way too sedentary. I switched to diet sodas years ago, then cut nearly all of those out, and eat a below-average amount of meat. The fun part was two years ago, I lost most of my weight during what I dubbed Eating Season — Hallowe’en to New Years — then gained it back through the summer when I should have kept it sweated off. 😛 Oh well. Exerbikes are a big help, you can get some reading done while pedaling so it’s not like you have to do either-or. You might want to look up a book called The Hacker’s Diet, daily weighings are part of the regimen but it’s a trend line you’re watching and not the day-to-day fluctuations. BTW, I’m about 6′ even, ~220lb, got down to the low 190s before losing the plot.

    • Patrick Hester
      November 23, 2010 at 12:32 pm

      Evermist is on hold while I figure out whether or not I want to podcast it. I’ve had suggestions (and some pressure) from different folks who say it would be better as a podcast and might reach a wider audience.

      Cuz, yeah – I need another podcast…

      I’m glad this struck a chord with you – it struck one with me. I live a sedentary life too. I spend way too much time sitting on my ass typing on a computer – like I’m doing right now. Something needs to change and this seems to me the best way to start that change. And it’s working 🙂

      The only time in my life that I actually lost weight was when I had a pair of oral surgeries for impacted wisdom teeth. I couldn’t eat anything solid for like two months. I existed on those Ensure shakes at first, then mashed potatoes and scrambled eggs, maybe some cream of wheat or quaker oats. I went into Thanksgiving that year being incredibly slimmed down but it didn’t last. I took a job shortly after that where I was driving all the time, crossing a dozen states and eating a ton of fast food on the run. Bleh.

      I’m excited about the bike. I’ve been looking at them for a couple weeks now and I think I’ve narrowed it down to the one I want. Maybe I’ll even get an iPad or other eReader for it…

      ~P

      • November 23, 2010 at 2:03 pm

        Actually, podcasting your work makes a heck of a lot of sense. You know how to do it, and you have the voice for it. In contrast, I have a voice for text (like having a face for radio). If my voice-trained daughter weren’t so busy with college… Anyway, I don’t know if Evermist in particular would be better as a podcast or not — but you’re positioned to make it work either way you choose. I was just bummed because it appeared to be getting to the climax when you stopped updating.

        Sounds like you were a truck driver for a while. Two of my brothers-in-law do that now. The freedom of the open road and all that tripe…

        As far as eReaders go, I’d recommend a purpose-built one (Kindle, Nook etc) over an iPad if that’s what you intend to use it for. iPads do a lot of things pretty well, eReaders do one thing very well. I have both a Kindle and an iPad, and the Kindle does 99% of the e-reading duty. I suppose it doesn’t help that the iPad gets passed around the house by all the other inmates — I’ve recently estimated it gets used 4-6 hours a day and very little of that by me (you wouldn’t have that problem, obviously). With Pages and a BT keyboard, an iPad would make a nice portable lunchtime writing utensil though.

        • Patrick Hester
          November 23, 2010 at 3:55 pm

          Actually, I was a bonded warehouse auditor; wholesale distributorships could ‘purchase’ HVAC equipment in advance of the season, then pay for it as they sold it. My job was to go in and compare the physical inventory to the ‘receipt’ and make sure they weren’t hiding sales to defer payment. It worked in such a way that my company actually leased the warehouse space from the company for $1, making it ‘our warehouse’, not theirs, and all the equipment therein was ‘ours’. There was complicated math involved, I’m sure.

          the distributor had an upper limit on what they could buy, then had to report sales weekly. People like me would go to each warehouse once every sixty days to physically count the inventory and compare it to what the manufacturer said they shipped and what the distributor said they sold. If there was a discrepancy, I had to figure out why. If they owed money, I had to collect.

          Which lead to a strange encounter with a sweet old grandmother who’d inherited the business when her husband passed. Every day I was there, she was as sweet as could be, bringing in baked goods, always checking that I was doing okay, that everyone was treating me well. And then, on the last day, when I had to hand her a bill for $10,000, she turned into a sailor on shore leave looking to do some damage…

          ~P

  2. November 23, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    Glad to hear about the Changes. Best of luck on making them stick. Any change in life can be a difficult one to pull off. Don’t dismiss some weights to do some lifting with too. Muscle burns more fat and it can give you something else to do besides pedalling.

    Short fiction? Probably a good idea. All I hear about nowadays is Anthology this and Anthology that. I don’t read anything short, but maybe I should and maybe I should write some too. Makes sense for our fast-paced lives.

    But, oh, how I love my Epic Fantasy…

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